tv Studio 1.0 Bloomberg February 7, 2015 12:00pm-12:31pm EST
emily: founder, ceo, mad scientist. max levchin is one of silicon valley's most iconic and serial entrepreneurs. he has played a role in some of tech's biggest successes, from yahoo! to yelp. today, you can find him in his innovation lab, tackling issues like fertility, health care, and banking. but many years ago, max levchin had no country to call home. he fled the soviet union, and ever the entrepreneur, built a new life in america.
joining me today on "studio 1.0" is paypal cofounder, max levchin. thanks for joining us. max levchin: thank you for inviting me. emily: you were born in the ukraine. how much of a connection do you still feel to the people and the country? max levchin: anytime i am told -- oh, you are russian, i feel the need to say, no, i am a jew who was born in ukraine. it is still a part of what defined me. i haven't been back in a long time. on occasion, i miss it. emily: what do you miss? max levchin: the people are very genuine. they don't pretend to be anything they're not. emily: what would you be doing if you were still there today? max levchin: probably writing code of some form. i probably would have started a company.
more or less. emily: have you been following what has been going on their recently? are you worried about a civil war? max levchin: yes, i am very worried. as an engineer, i always think through a solution -- it is not obvious that there is one. it seems to be at least somewhat contained, but it is horrifying. emily: how does that affect you? max levchin: it makes me worry about people i grew up with. i don't feel like i can help the situation. a shot of cold water in a sheltered, beautiful place to try and change the world. emily: do you worry it could escalate into another cold war? max levchin: i think the cold war was largely a product of mistrust and disinformation, the lack of clarity between people. and between social media and the internet, that is not possible today. i think the conflicts are unearthed very quickly.
we seem to be frequently resolve bethey still, sadly, seem to frequently resolved with guns and bullets, but long-term, passive-aggressive interactions between states are less frequent. emily: having lived there and here, who is to blame for the frostiness? max levchin: i feel like there is always -- we are the great democracy, we should be leading more. emily: you spend your days thinking about how to solve big problems. do you ever feel guilty for not trying to solve those problems there, and you are here instead? max levchin: i am a big believer in working to exhaustion every day. as far as my skills are concerned, i know how to do people, how to inspire and engage. emily: how does being an immigrant impact what you do?
and how you live your life? max: it shapes everything. i think it's an advantage. beenon valley has always shaped by the hands of immigrants, in a big way, in part because we come here with nothing to lose. we know that if we don't do it, no one else will give it to us. we work hard. we are used to discrimination, so we cast a wider net when we look for people to collaborate with. we don't take anything for granted. emily: do you feel discriminated against? max levchin: no, never. everything i have, i owe to the fact that the u.s. and the silicon valley is fundamentally pro-immigrant. my politics -- whatever it is, whatever i have contributed, i
very much owe back to the u.s. willingness to accept my family and myself as a refugee. i think we should be doing more. emily: tell me about your parents. max levchin: i grew up in a soviet scientist family. my entire family was physicists, every generation, everyone but my dad -- emily: what was your father? max levchin: he was originally a chemist, but one day he became a writer. emily: who do you take after? max levchin: i took very much after my grandmother. she was in her 60's when she decided the family would be better served if we moved across the ocean. she single-handedly engineered the exodus of the family and brought us out here. all the while, she struggled with breast cancer throughout that entire time.
on her deathbed i asked, how did you pull it off? she said, things had to be done. so much willpower. emily: when you were very young, your parents were told you were going to die at a young age multiple times. what was wrong? max levchin: the soviet union -- a land untouched by modern medicine. i had some sort of a respiratory disease. bronchitis, some other stuff. every time i would breathe into a tube -- oh, the lung capacity -- any minute now you are going to pass out. my mom and grandma were like, well, that is unacceptable. go do 100 push-ups, expand your lung capacity. my mom insisted i played a woodwind instrument to improve my lung capacity.
i somehow survived past the point where the doctors say i wouldn't survive. i was pretty close to chernobyl. emily: you were there when chernobyl happened. max levchin: pretty close, within 90 miles. a couple weeks after it happened, it became giant. when it happened, it was a very sunny day. emily: and you escaped. max levchin: my parents found out through a friend of a friend in the government that something really awful happened. because i had a family full of physicists, nuclear power station accidents are no joke. she packed me and my younger brother onto a train and sent us off the next morning. you would get tested as you were coming off the train, a homemade geiger counter.
one of my feet was setting off a geiger counter. people were saying, we may have to cut off his foot. beeping means he's radioactive. apparently there was a rose thorn on the bottom of my sneaker. it was a pan-am flight. -- >> do you remember coming to the united states? excited.s so it was a pan-am flight. we were going to border control of russian soldiers. they said, you won't be allowed to come back -- my grandmother said, yes, we know. we were leaving the country with $700. emily: by the time you got here, the soviet union collapsed. max levchin: my passport was a passport to no country. emily: the paypal story is sort of long and legend. looking, was selling the right
emily: you came to silicon valley with no job, no money, no real network except that you went to the same school -- why as marcame school andreessen at one point. why did you come here? max: i started four companies on campus. every time we would fail, which we consistently did, the founding team more parts of the cofounding team would drop out and go to palo alto. it was this magical place, where even though we failed, we could succeed. emily: the promised land. this is something i didn't realize. paypal is actually your fifth company. what happened to the first four? max: varying degrees of hope-crushing failure. the one before paypal was almost not quite dead. it was still kind of dead. emily: how did paypal get started? max: it was really hot.
palo alto gets really hot. san francisco is pretty moderate, but palo alto gets pretty brutal. i would go to stanford and sneak into summer lectures because they were air-conditioned. i snuck into one because i recognized the name of the guy doing the guest lecture. it was peter thiel. he was doing a lecture on currency trading. it turned out to be a really small class. i just chatted him up afterwards. i was definitely not there to learn about currency trading, i was there to sleep and get some air-conditioning. i wound up listening. he seemed like a really smart guy. he said, i'm going to start a company. i said, great we should have , breakfast. how about tomorrow morning? we met on embarcadero road. he had the red, white, and blue shake and we talked about companies. emily: the paypal story is sort of long and legend. looking back, was selling at the
-- it the right thing? the right time? max: the team was very tired. probably the right call. on the emotional front, it was very difficult. on the business front, the right thing. emily: what was difficult? max: it was your baby. this gangly teenager that was growing up into being a beautiful company. emily: after you sold paypal, you could have retired. you didn't. i know it was a hard time for you. max: turns out i am much happier when i am working. when i am not working, i am kind of a bummer. i bum people out. everyone around me was like, man, don't come over. emily: so you started to fly? max: i started a bunch of things. as i found out, not the thing i deeply cared about the product level. i was not in love with entertainment. i was ultimately was not nearly
as successful. strictly because the products didn't get me out of bed. emily: you ended up selling to google, $182 million. what was it like working at a company that you didn't start? max: i have never worked for anyone before. i was very close to the very top of that company at a founder level. just not professionally, being there with the guys. they are as brilliant, they are -- as brilliant as it gets. they are awesome. it was rewarding intellectually, it was fun. it felt a little bit unreal, like i was in a lighter gear than i should be. i ultimately missed that, being in a higher gear. emily: let's talk about your innovation lab, where you are the mad scientist. you laughed when i said that. max: i am not that mad. it is awesome.
it is basically the intellectual outlet for everything that comes up in my overactive brain. it is the consolidation of all my intellectual activity, investing activity, startup activity, coding, hacking, prototyping -- anytime i have a wacky idea, i can gather the troops and say, we are going to build something crazy. it is a bit of a tyrannical democracy where lots of people are excited. we prototype it. we have lots of space covered in white board paint. when we have an idea, we start sketching something on the wall. we say, it is amazing, no one is doing it. why don't we solve it? we start a company. it is like a generator, a factory for projecting companies. emily: give us an update on this
be that you hope will something that will help women get pregnant. max: it is amazing. emily: you are doing some creative things that you hope will help revolutionize health care. max: we are helping women conceive naturally, or stay out of conception if that is their goal, or helping them carry healthy babies to term across any form of health care. the number one cost is complicated pregnancy. they can cost upwards of $100,000 to have a multiple birth pregnancy. just carrying multiple babies to term is an incredible expense that employers bear. it has been the source of some controversy. aol was the last one to talk about million-dollar babies that are too expensive.
i don't think it is in any way reasonable to think of it that way, but if we can prevent those costs by addressing the cause early, that is a lot of money saved, and a business model. emily: let's talk about where you are spending most of your time, trying to become the modern bank. max: it is going really well. the best question to ask is your -- your atm is literally a green screen. if you are buying something online and you don't want to put your credit card online, we will let you split your purchase into several monthly payments. emily: will there -- we all have credit scores. will there be an affirm score? max: there already is. that's what we use internally. we are helping to push credit scoring and underwriting into
the 21st century. emily: you spend a lot of time thinking about big problems that you can solve and you have been pretty outspoken about the lack of big innovation in silicon valley. why aren't you working on flying cars and rocket ships? max: i try to find places where i can add value the most. i don't know much about jet propulsion and engines. i am not sure rocket ships are my forte. i really like math. my idea of a good time, until very recently when i had kids, was still curling up with a book on probability theory. applying that passion and that love for numbers, to places where numbers can make a huge difference, such as consumer finance, health care. emily: you mentioned your kids. you are very passionate about your work and your hobbies. what kind of parent are you? max: i hope i am a good parent. my number one worry these days
is, i as good a father as i can be? i think i'm pretty fun. although my wife has now determined that not only am i a nerd, my son is a nerd. i am very happy about that. we are nerding out. he is a four-year-old that loves arduino. emily: is he going to learn how to code? max: he already knows how to code. he is four and a half. he likes playing blinking light games. emily: how much phase do you -- faith do you have that yahoo! can be turned around and that marissa is the one to do it? max: i have lots of faith and -- in marissa. ♪
i am not sure that is a good title, but one of the things i keep coming back to as i age and try to become a better parent, i always come back to where did it all begin. what is the one thing that makes me who i am? i am 100% sure it is drive. that i got from my grandmother. i remember thinking to myself, she is like a tank, and she is 5'1", that is the one thing i have to pick up from her -- the drive to succeed is unstoppable. emily: what did you do with your first big paycheck? max: nothing. i remember the day i earned my first million dollars. i was in the shower in palo alto, someone else's apartment that i was crashing in because i just didn't have time to get my own apartment. i was taking a shower and i thought to myself, remember the now as day, you are
twentysomething millionaire. you should probably go out and do something nice for yourself, and then i went to work. emily: you have been on the yahoo! board for how long? max: couple years. emily: how much faith do you still have that yahoo! can be turned around and that marissa is the person to do it? max: i have lots of faith in marissa. she has the drive. she is probably, pretty certainly a harder working person than i am. emily: there are obviously not enough women in high places, especially in technology. as someone who likes to solve problems, how can that problem be solved? max: i am going to solve it personally for one woman by making sure that my daughter is as technologically and nerd-enabled as possible. it has to start really early. the problem is that you can't just slam dunk, everybody hire more girls.
you have to begin when they are babies. you have to make sure they are exposed to everything and anything they are told they can't do. in that sense, it is actually one weird thing that the soviet union got right. socialism. when i was going up, the idea of girls, boys, not being equivalently in election we equivalently intellectually gifted. it was not imported by the government. of course girls are smart, boys are smart, it was never an issue. the fact that my grandmother was a double phd in astronomy wasn't that big of a deal. here it is, oh, my god, how did she do it? emily: how do you want to be remembered? max: i want my kids to say he was around and he was really fun or at least helpful. , emily: thank you for joining us today on this edition of "studio 1.0"
♪ emily: he's a modern-day silicon valley renegade. chamath palihapitiya is unafraid of breaking the conventional rules, vowing to take bigger risks, solve the bigger -- biggest problems, and make money big-time. from putting chips in our clothes to starting a university from scratch. he is best known for supercharging facebook from 50 million users to 750 million users. but the tech growth legend started on an unlikely path on